Pittsburgh Pirates: The Curious Case of Colin Moran

FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 6: JB Schuck #17 congratulates Jung Ho Kang #16 of the Pittsburgh Pirates after he scored on a single by Colin Moran #19 against the Boston Red Sox in the first inning during a spring training game at JetBlue Park on March 6, 2019 in Fort Myers, Florida. The Pirates defeated the Red Sox 6-1. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 6: JB Schuck #17 congratulates Jung Ho Kang #16 of the Pittsburgh Pirates after he scored on a single by Colin Moran #19 against the Boston Red Sox in the first inning during a spring training game at JetBlue Park on March 6, 2019 in Fort Myers, Florida. The Pirates defeated the Red Sox 6-1. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /
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For Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Colin Moran, a change of scenery and a few adjustments could lead to a 2020 breakout.

Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Colin Moran hasn’t done much since being drafted sixth overall in the 2013 MLB draft by the Marlins.  He made his debut with the Houston Astros in 2016 before being traded to the Bucs as a piece of the Gerrit Cole deal.  His two seasons in Pittsburgh have been forgettable, totaling 0.8 WAR at 3B for the Pirates.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are likely planning to take a step back under new General Manager Ben Cherington.  This is good for Moran, who no longer has the pressure of living up to one of Neal Huntington’s worst trades.  Moran could be acquired on the cheap by a team in need of 3B help and could make an impact with some adjustments.

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Looking at the new Statcast Infield Outs Above Average statistics, Moran didn’t quite make the Iron Mitt Squad, but he was pretty darn close to it at -6 OAA, which makes puts him in the top 20 worst defenders.  Unlike the other poor defenders though, Moran actually has something he is really good at.  Moran is a top-three defender at 3B on his glove side at +6 OAA.  That +6 OAA puts Moran in the top 15 of ALL defenders where he looks directly up at Javier Baez and Trevor Story on the list.

Moran’s struggles in every other direction may be a result of his positioning in the field.  Among all 3B with at least 250 plate appearances on defense, Moran was positioned the deepest and furthest to his glove side, giving him more ground to cover forward and much less time to cut a guy down on anything to his backhand side.

According to the 2018 Fan Scouting Report, Moran has decent arm strength and accuracy but lacks a good first step which would contribute to his -8 OAA to his backside.  This should be an easy positioning fix for a team that acquires Moran.

Offensively, Moran has been just below average 97 wRC+ in his career but there’s reason to believe a change of scenery and approach could help improve that figure.  As a left-handed pull hitter, Moran hits ground balls nearly 45% of the time where defenses can easily shift and convert them into outs.  That approach hasn’t necessarily been discouraged either given that the Pirates as a team were in the top 3 in GB%.  More troubling, is that Moran’s chase rate on pitches out of the zone increased by 10% points up to 39%.

Simply put, whatever the Pittsburgh Pirates hitting philosophy was it wasn’t working for Moran.  Moran doesn’t have huge exit velocity numbers but that doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective hitter.  Fewer ground balls and a potentially more balanced batted ball distribution could push his wRC+ into the 100-110 range which would make him a solid player for a team.

So we have identified potential ways Moran could improve and be a much better player, now who would have interest in acquiring him?  The Rangers and Dodgers missed out on Anthony Rendon so they could have an interest in a buy-low opportunity.  The Rangers in particular just got a combined 0.0 WAR from their 3B, so Moran, as is, would be an improvement.  The Dodgers got excellent production from 3B but Justin Turner could play second to get Moran’s lefty bat in the lineup.

Moran and his ability to field on his glove side would actually be a strong complement playing next to Corey Seager or Elvis Andrus.  Both SS are +5 OAA total but were respectively worth 0.0 and -4 OAA going to their backside.  This would be an incremental upgrade but teams want a competitive advantage no matter how small it may be.

Acquiring Moran wouldn’t cost much of anything in prospects either.  This isn’t a trade where the acquiring team dreams of turning the player into a superstar.  This is a case where you take a slightly above replacement level player, make a few small tweaks and turn them into an average or slightly above average (2-2.5 WAR).

Next. Josh Donaldson to the Twins on a Four-Year Deal. dark

Colin Moran wouldn’t be a blockbuster acquisition but neither were guys like Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, Mike Tauchman, or Gio Urshela.  Roster depth is always critical to have on hand, just ask the Yankees or Dodgers.  Moran wouldn’t be any team’s most exciting acquisition of the offseason, but you could have worse contingency plans around.